Morocco: Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech
Friendly but heartbreaking. That's how I experienced Morocco. It wasn't my first trip out of Europe, still I wasn't ready for everything that poverty brought to Morocco's kind and warm people. Their hospitality is heartwarming and inspiring. And then there's mint tea, their way of saying welcome.
Ten days weren't nearly enough to discover Morocco, but they were enough to have a taste of it.
Immortalized by a film that wasn't even shot there, Casablanca is one of those cities that tourists usually skip. Admittedly there's not so much to see yet it's worth stopping by for one day. Even if just for seeing the Hassan II mosque, definitely the most beautiful and breath-taking mosque I've ever seen.
It's well worth to take the guided tour too, seeing the insights with interesting explanations on its history and architecture. The French architect that built it was very smart in designing traditional features with modern technology. The mosque has built it speakers, that seem like decoration, an electric roof that can be opened and hammam that has never been used yet (at least not till summer 2014).
And while you're at it, visit the local markets and try some of their refreshing fresh juices. They're too good to be true.
The capital of Morocco is much more modern and rich city than Casablanca. Naturally, also much more touristic. I was mostly impressed by the seaside and the market, where little alleys and shops welcome you on every step. So do their shop owners, never missing an opportunity to chat.
And before you know it, one of the local boys, will become your designated tour guide, offering vague explanations about the city and its inhabitants, while taking you to the view point of Rabat walls. And yes, you'll have to pay them.
Marrakech is well worth visiting, but I for me once was enough. It is the kind of place that can make you hate people. From the moment we stepped out of the train and up till we left, I felt like a walking wallet, cruising among the endless small town crooks, that try to swindle you one way or another. My advise is don't take taxi's that don't use the meter and never trust anyone who says they'll take you where you want to go. They won't and they'll want money for it too.
There are many interesting things to see in Marrakech, from museums, parks to ruins and places of Berber cultural heritage. Two days should be enough though.
Jemaa El Fna is wonderful to see. For about 10 minutes. They you have to keep your eyes on snake charmers and monkey keepers (not to throw the animals around your neck and demand money to remove them), henna artists (that won't always wait for your consent) and dozens of merchants that have "special price for you, my friend".
Yves Saint Laurent spent last years of his life in Marrakech and invested into reviving a beautiful little oasis, a garden with Berber museum is now opened to visitors and offers a nice break from loud life of Marrakech.
The cute little streets of the old town of Marrakech are serving also as a highway for motors, bikes, donkeys and all other forms of transport. It's a loud and smelly nightmare, so look for shortcuts, whenever you can, especially in the evenings.
After getting traveler's diarrhea (What? My stomach isn't made of steel?), I had to be careful about what and where to eat (which is a pity because Moroccan food and juices are really delicious). Thomas, on the other hand, had no problems, happily munching away food from everywhere. We ended up going to Earth Cafe, where you can have tasty veggie food (with local touch) and delicious fresh juices in the company of other tourists.
My favorite places in Marrakech were El Badi Palace - now a beautiful ruin and home to many storks and Royal Garden, open to the general public every Friday.
And if you stay longer, Marrakech is an excellent place to take trips with Grand Taxi that costs next to nothing. That's basically 20 year old Mercedes, that is very comfortable for 5 and very uncomfortable for 6 people (plus driver). Don't look for the seat belts or a working speed meters, you won't find them.
If you're lucky though you can buy off 1 or 2 extra places and make your ride more comfortable. If you have a bit more time, buses are a very affordable option to get around.